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Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

'Tis the season of the 'Winter Flu Olympics' -- again

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First Published in Print: 01/19/2013

Last week, while sitting in a doctor's crowded waiting room, I watched the new season of the Winter Flu Olympics.

A sneezing competition was in progress when I arrived. And within mere minutes of taking my seat, I thought I had witnessed the worst sneeze I might ever see in my entire life. It erupted without warning from a young man, slouched in his chair, tethered to an iPod, staring glassy-eyed at the ceiling. His Vesuvian sneeze rocked the room, spewed a misty cloud of viral detritus throughout our cramped quarters. It was an appallingly effortless performance -- entailing not even the slightest gesture toward covering his mouth.

I was ready to score him a perfect 10 in the category of "most obnoxious sneeze, greatest risk of public contagion." But then an older gentleman came out of nowhere and trumped him. He suddenly stood up, placed his hands on his hips, bent abruptly backward and inhaled deeply. Several of us tried to protect ourselves -- turning away or wrapping scarves across our faces. Alas, like a whipsaw, his body bent violently forward, flinging a wet and turbulent "ahhHHH-CHOooooo!" into the collective airspace.

In other events: Competitive coughing generated comparable infectious excitement within the room. And rivalry remained fierce, running nose-to-nose, for "greatest number of missed tissue-tosses into the wastebasket."

Still, as engrossing as these events may have been, I soon realized that every passing moment spent in the waiting room only increased my risk of getting sick. My hopes for leaving infection-free depleted faster than all the Purell dispensers stationed by the doors.

I derived meager consolation in considering how the experience might help inform the next revision of my best-selling book, "The Sick Person's Etiquette Guide -- How to Contain Your Own Secretions with Style and Make the World a Healthier Place." Published by the Common Sense Medical Association, it makes for a good read in front of the fireplace during a cold winter's night ... or, actually, just during a cold.
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Protecting children from unthinkable harm

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First Published in Print: 01/06/2013

Last month, the country was shocked to learn that a gunman shot and killed 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. The tragedy sparked yet another so-called "national conversation" about gun control, igniting predictable passions on both sides of the heated debate. While National Rifle Association leadership recommended armed security guards in schools to enhance children's safety, gun-control advocates demanded stricter legislation to limit assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Locked in stark disagreement, still, both sides claimed to be aiming at the same objective: to keep children safe. How could that be?

"Keeping children safe" is always a great idea. But as an idea or abstraction, it can be easily shaped into a platitude, a moral imperative, or a political sound bite used to lure people toward wildly differing points of view. Want to keep children safe and healthy? Well, then -- do/do not have them vaccinated. Do/do not provide them with sex education. Do/do not allow contact sports. Do/do not pass legislation allowing confidential abortion counseling for teens. Do/do not tinker with school lunch menus.

A major problem with "keeping children safe" is, well ... that it is such a great "idea." It brilliantly shines as a shared concept, but is dimly seen as a collective reality. Why should that be? Read More